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For twelve-year-old Cora Landry and her friends Violet and Jordyn, it was supposed to be an ordinary sleepover—movies and Ouija and talking about boys. But when they decide to sneak out to go to the abandoned rail yard on the outskirts of town, little do they know that their innocent games will have dangerous consequences.

Later that night, Cora is discovered on the tracks, bloody and clinging to life, her friends nowhere to be found. Soon their small rural town is thrust into a maelstrom. Who would want to hurt a young girl like Cora—and why? In an investigation that leaves no stone unturned, everyone is a suspect and no one can be trusted—not even those closest to Cora.

BEFORE SHE WAS FOUND is a timely and gripping thriller about friendship and betrayal, about the power of social pressure and the price of needing to fit in. It is about the great lengths a parent will go to protect their child and keep them safe—even if that means burying the truth, no matter the cost.

New York Times bestselling author Heather Gudenkauf recently took some time to discuss her latest thriller, BEFORE SHE WAS FOUND, with The Big Thrill:

Which took shape first: plot, character, or setting?

The plot to BEFORE SHE WAS FOUND took shape for me first. I knew I wanted to explore the angst-ridden intricacies of friendship, the power of social pressure and the lengths individuals will take in order to try and fit in. I also wanted to delve into the roles that parents play in protecting their children from both real and imagined dangers.

Was there anything new you discovered, or that surprised you, as you wrote this book?

The ending of BEFORE SHE WAS FOUND surprised even me! As I wrote I had one conclusion in mind and wrote steadily toward that end. As is often the case, the characters tend to take over, going off in their own directions and the ending transformed into something quite different.

What’s the one question you wish someone would ask you about this book, or your work in general? And, please answer the question too! 

I love it when readers ask me where I get my ideas for my novels, most of which come from a snippet of news that I come across. The basis for BEFORE SHE WAS FOUND came from a terrifying crime that occurred not far from where I live. From there I created unique characters, settings and challenges based on that small fragment of an idea.

What attracts you to this book’s genre?

When I was young, my dad and I would sit and watch suspenseful shows together. I loved being scared and soon that extended to my reading preferences and my dad and I started swapping thrillers.

As a reader, I love the fast-paced nature of thrillers and the puzzles that need to be solved. As a writer, I love creating ordinary characters and placing them in extraordinary and often dangerous circumstances. I also relish the challenge of meting out just the right amount of information and clues to the reader so they have the opportunity to solve the mystery too.

What was the biggest challenge this book presented? What about the biggest opportunity?

BEFORE SHE WAS FOUND was written in multiple perspectives including a mother, a grandfather, social media and police transcripts. The novel also includes the perspective of one of the young girls through her journal entries. I found it to be a real challenge to authentically and accurately write in the voice of a twelve-year-old girl. I hope I did Cora justice!

As for the biggest opportunity, through writing the stories of Cora, Violet and Jordyn I hope that conversations regarding appropriate access to mental health services for our youth will begin and then continue.


Heather Gudenkauf is the critically acclaimed author of several novels, including the New York Times bestseller The Weight of Silence. She lives in Iowa with her family.

To learn more about Heather, please visit her website.